UofSC civil rights middle unveils historic marker commemorating landmark protest

The Rev. James Edwards Jr., the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case, refers to his name engraved on the memorial.

The Center for Civil Rights History and Research at the University of South Carolina unveiled a new historical marker on March 2 to commemorate the courage of hundreds of students who marched at the South Carolina State House 60 years ago. Many of the students were arrested and the appeal against their conviction was eventually tried by the US Supreme Court, setting a precedent protecting the protesters’ rights.

The marker on the corner of Gervais and Hauptstrasse was unveiled in a ceremony organized by the center along with state and local leaders and community partners. In addition to the marker, a granite memorial with the title “We must not be moved” will be installed at a location that has yet to be determined.

The historic protest took place on March 2, 1961, when high school and college students marched to the State House to protest racial inequality. The students were told they could march around the State House in silence for once. After starting to sing patriotic and religious songs, 187 protesters were arrested for breaking the peace.

Almost two years later, the US Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision in the Edwards v. South Carolina case that the state had violated protesters’ first adjustment rights.

“This victory in the United States Supreme Court strengthened the rights of protesters in the ongoing struggles for justice and equality. As we dedicate a historical marker, we recognize the courage of young women and men who have refused to step back in their pursuit of justice for all, ”said Bobby Donaldson, director of the Center for the History and Research of Civil Rights.

Rev. James Edwards Jr., the lead plaintiff on the appeal, said, “We wanted to let South Carolina leaders know that we are determined to fight for justice and equal opportunities. We wanted to send this message directly to the people in the State House. “

In the morning Edwards left the Benedict College campus and made his way to Zion Baptist Church and then to the State House. Little did he know he was invading the pages of history, Donaldson said.

“He and hundreds of students went to jail for peaceful protests and were prosecuted. Their protest led to a landmark case by the United States Supreme Court. Now Rev. Edward’s name is set in stone exactly where he fought against racial injustice 60 years ago, ”Donaldson said.

Edwards called the marker and memorial “a gift from God”.

“I felt overwhelmed and blessed to see my civil rights work being remembered,” said Edwards. “When I’m over and gone, my name will be seen and known. My children and grandchildren will know that I have done something for my people. I can run my hand over a stone and feel my name. It’s not a tombstone in a cemetery, but a marker and memorial right across from the capital where I protested. I’m glad God held me here to see this day. “

For MEP Leola Robinson-Simpson (D-Greenville), who was also in the march, the unveiling of the marker was “both solemn and joyful” because many of the marchers have passed away and “we are still fighting for justice,” she said.

Former Chief Justice of the SC Supreme Court, Jean Toal, who was present at the march, put the litigation in a historical perspective, pointing out that Edwards v South Carolina was the first civil rights ruling based on the first amendment. Previous civil rights cases – including Brown v Board of Education and its South Carolina predecessor, Briggs v Elliot – relied on the 14th Amendment.

“We hadn’t made a decision based on the First Amendment protecting expression to end segregation. This was the landmark event that will protect so many demonstrations in the future, ”Toal said.

Rep. James Clyburn (DS.C.), who participated in the 1961 march as a student at SC State University, also addressed the precedent set by the judgment through a tribute in the Congressional report: “I can attest that we are committed to the fight for civil rights and had no idea that our actions would help uphold the right to peaceful protest for future generations. “

About the historical marker, Clyburn said, “It is important to remember our history. The story is informative and should be educational. This marker reminds us of past sacrifices and will hopefully guide us as we continue our quest for a more perfect union. “

The marker unveiling was a partnership of the UofSC Center for the History and Research of Civil Rights, which organized the program. Columbia SC 63: Our Story Matters, which funded the marker with community support; the city of Colombia; and historic Colombia. To uncover and tell the deeper story of the 1961 march, the center, in collaboration with Columbia SC 63, identified the individuals involved, conducted oral lore and documented their stories.

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